Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
In our top story, Staring Contest, or The Enemy in Orange was finished and turned in last Friday. I rather like it. It probably won’t even make the first cut. I’m getting very frustrated with my success rate when it comes to submissions.
Last weekend  saw myself and nine other people converge on Antioch, Illinois, to celebrate the birthday of my close friend Mandy—the fiancee of my even closer friend Stephen—and as long as we were there, we were going to go skiing and raid the local karaoke joint.
Antioch is genuine small Midwestern town, which means I always get a little worried about entering it, even in the presence of multiple white people. There. I’ve said it. That said, I reprise and emphasize the word little from that statement, as a means of pointing out that any apprehension I felt was minimal, and did not prevent me from having a spectacular time with a group of most excellent people, one of whom was my girlfriend.
It’s hard to log a minute-by-minute account, since in hindsight everything simply blurred into one mass of time featuring different moments worth mentioning. There was the running gag of Stephen’s sweatshirt, which wasn’t his sweatshirt but Mandy’s aunt’s, and the only such item of clothing that fit him when he needed to borrow something for early-morning commiseration. The fact that he wore his fiancee’s aunt’s sweatshirt wasn’t at all the issue. The comedy came from the front of the shirt, which featured a central image of Tweety Bird, in loose-fitting hip-hop trappings, surrounded by other Looney Toons in the same garb, with various expressions–Sylvester seemed pensive, Bugs seemed typically cool and detached, and Daffy was yelling about…something.  In the top corner of the shirt, a caption that we could only presume was meant ot be attributed to aforementioned central canary-like bird, read “What’s Your Pwoblem?”
For whatever reason, this never failed to reduce us to peals of laughter.
Odd factoid that I’m not sure what to do with: in the bathrooms of the two cabins-by-the-lake I have ever visited–Mandy’s and Amelia’s–there’s a small wood-carved image of an elderly woman and man sitting in the bath together, covered with bubbles, above the phrase “Conserve Water, Bathe Together.” Although this is certainly a good idea, I’m curious why it’s such a big seller in lakeside cabins, and I’m also a bit weirded out by the expressions on the characters’ faces–hers is of surprise, his is smug. The possibility of libido-killing images implanting themselves in my head forever is all too real, and so I stop here.
The two longest conversations had in the group are on the state of this country and the state of Poland, the first on Friday night, the second on Sunday morning. Our current president probably couldn’t locate Poland on a globe. I have great hope that more young people can see outside our own borders, and that these young people will be the ones to undo the damage, but then again, hope is what you have when you can’t have confidence.
Two years ago, the last time we tried to go skiing, it rained all weekend and we had to entertain ourselves with our own pleasant company and a rented copy of Bring It On–a much better movie than most of us would have expected—which was fun, but wasn’t skiing.
This time, we made it up to Alpine Valley and spent the better part of four hours sliding down artificial ice. I’d been skiing once, maybe ten years ago, and hadn’t been very good at it then, but something in my mind better understood the physics this time, and after a few relatively tame spills, I was able to control my balance and my legs well enough to safely attempt just enough speed to make the whole experience worthwhile. I mastered the bunny hill and was making headway with the intermediate slopes, and although I took to the tow rope like a duck to water, I never quite got the hang of unloading from the chair lift.
But now I’m hooked. I can’t wait to do it again.
Saturday night, our group of ten descended upon Topper’s bar, where two years ago I’d managed to shatter a few stereotypes about Pakistani-Americans  with a rockin’ karaoke rendition of “Hard to Handle.” This time around, the bar was mostly dead, with the exception of one magnificent elderly truck driver/fisherman/factory worker who went only by the name Blue Chip  and did everything in the style of Elvis, had he lived to that age. In a few short hours, we became known simply as “Chicago,” this strange crew of karaoke fanatics determined to shake the bar to its foundations. I swear, by the end of the evening we had turned into some kind of modern folk tale, or, if we make a point of showing up each year like this, more like a seasonal occurrence. Swallows returning to Capistrano and singing Rolling Stones standards. Or something.
Stephen kept testing his immortality and ours by loudly exclaiming that we loved being in Wisconsin. Antioch is five minutes away from Wisconsin, but still proudly Illinois. I was sure that we were going to get beat up in the parking lot.
Besides the illustrious Blue Chip, two other characters at the bar that night were the charming woman who ended up being called “Alabama”—a middle-aged woman from that state who sang Judds tunes and ran a hematite necklace business, which we wouldn’t have known if she hadn’t given one to Mandy as a spontaneous birthday present— and Renee, who entered the bar with a prima donna attitude you might not expect from a woman singing karaoke…in a roadhouse…in Antioch. One of her musclebound goon boyfriends—no, seriously— made a big show of bullying the Kay-Jay by getting in his face and proclaiming “Renee Sings Next.” Renee, for her part, made a big show out of telling us that no Chicago outsiders could compare to an Antioch songbird, and then made a decent show of Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet,” imbuing the song with a seriousness otherwise missing from a song that celebrates velvet paintings of Elvis.
We hated Renee. But we were too busy having our own good time to let it show. Donna wrapped her lungs around “Brick House” and “White Rabbit,” and Suzanne, who’d also requested the Airplane, followed with her own performance of the song. Liz and Fred brought down the house with their all-out attacks on “Chain of Fools” and “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” Stephen made us forget Davy Jones with his own “I’m a Believer.”
For my part, I contributed “Beast of Burden” and “Last Nite.” Good times.
 Been having an ongoing discussion about the words “last,” next,” and “this,” in relation to weekends, with my girlfriend. When Donna says “next weekend,” she invariably means the one approaching; which is what I refer to as “this weekend.” “Next weekend” is “the weekend after this one.” On the same token, though, I’m tempted to refer to yesterday and the day before as “this weekend,” even though it’s technically “last weekend,” which is what I would consider the weekend that preceded Monday of last week. My head’s spinning just writing it down.
 “Duck Season! Shoot the duck! Shoot the duck!”
 To be bitterly honest, such stereotypes seem to be shattered any time I attempt karaoke at all. It’s both gratifying and disappointing. I’m never sure if plaudits from strangers, afterward, are because I did a good job or because they didn’t expect me to do that good of a job in the first place. Christ, I’m cynical today.
 We never figured out why he had this nickname. We originally theorized that it was gambling-related, but then it occurred to us how many other ways there are to use the term, such as in college basketball and the stock market. We do know that he left the bar proclaiming that he was drunk, and nobody seemed to care. Our hope is that there’s a special Blue Chip lane set up in Antioch to keep him and others safe.
Current music: MP3 list, Peter Gabriel and Deep Forest, “While the Earth is Sleeping”